A guide to borrowing a horse from the Metropolitan Police

Cameron confirms that he did ride Brooks' horse. So how can you get a retired police horse of your o

The latest SHOCK DEVELOPMENT in Horse-gate is that David Cameron, long time riding buddy of Rebekah Brooks, did indeed ride her horse. That's not an innuendo (but you're welcome for the mental image). It is a reference to the news earlier this week that the Metropolitan Police loaned Brooks a retired police horse between 2008 and 2010, when she was editor of the Sun.

In an admission of dishonesty that's up there with Watergate, Cameron conceded that he had allowed a "confusing picture" to emerge about his riding of Raisa the horse. He told reporters:

He [Charlie Brooks -- Rebekah's husband and long-time friend of Cameron's] has a number of horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse Raisa which I did ride.

I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us and I think I should probably conclude by saying I don't think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon.

The Met's line has consistently been that it is no big deal and retired horses are re-homed all the time. But how exactly would one go about it? Maybe I'd like a retired police horse. It's always good to keep your options open.

I called the Met's press office this morning to ask how it all works. The nice man I spoke to read out the information that I'd already seen on their website:

At the end of the police horse's working life the animal is re-homed at one of many identified establishments who have previously contacted the Mounted Branch with a view to offering a home.

The Mounted Branch is looking for suitable homes for retired horses, that is homes where the horse will not be ridden.

Anyone in the southeast of England offering such a home will be considered first.

But who are these people? Apart from national newspaper editors, obvs. "Anyone in the south-east who offers to take them on," he tells me, sounding bored. "They're people who register an interest in re-homing a horse with the Mounted Branch. Officers will assess whether it's a suitable home." So they go and check the house? He laughs. "I don't know if they check the house. They assess whether it's a suitable home."

I'm still not getting a sense of exactly the process works, so I ask again. Who are these people? How do they apply? He repeats the paragraph above, which is helpful.

Although he tells me that in 2011, eight horses retired, in 2010, 10 did, and in 2009, 11, I can't shake my suspicion that there was something not quite regular about this case. Brooks returned her horse, Raisa, after two years. That doesn't sound like retirement. Indeed, the arrangement has been most frequently described as a "loan". Is that the same? "Well, yes," he says, impatient at my idiotic implication that retirement isn't normally temporary. "They can still be returned to the care of the MPS after they've retired."

And another thing -- the only suitable homes are those where the horse will not be ridden? "Yes, they are homes where the horse will not be ridden."

If Brooks was indeed part of the rehoming programme, she might want to have words with Cameron, who has inadvertently grassed her up for breaking the rules. Raisa was not just ridden by her owners, but by the future Prime Minister, no less. The Mounted Branch office might want to work on that suitability assessment process.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.